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SportWales get a reality check as Croatia proves a step too far and two Ryan Giggs decisions raise eyebrows

21:20  08 june  2019
21:20  08 june  2019 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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Wales get a reality check as Croatia proves a step too far and two Ryan Giggs decisions raise eyebrows © PA Wales' manager Ryan Giggs reacts from the touchline during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group E match at Stadion Gratski Vrt, Osijek. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday June 8, 2019. See PA story SOCCER Croatia. Photo credit should read: Adam Davy/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only, No commercial use without prior permission.

Wales gave it a right old go, but in the end fell to Euro 2020 qualifying defeat in Croatia.

A James Lawrence own goal and Ivan Perisic strike won the game for Croatia, with a David Brooks effort in the closing quarter leading to a Wales rally that wasn't quite enough.

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So what were the main talking points, or things we learned, from the 90 minutes at a sun-drenched Stadion Gradski? We take a look...

Wales get a reality check as Croatia proves a step too far and two Ryan Giggs decisions raise eyebrows © Reuters Croatia

Reality check, this is where Wales are at

Ask some Wales fans and they'll claim this is the greatest squad we have had.

But while no-one should doubt the talent of Ryan Giggs' young guns - and we've talked them up as much as most - the truth is many of them remain inexperienced, particularly at this harshest of levels.

There needs to be something of a reality check as to exactly where Wales stand.

They went to the lair of the World Cup finalists with five players who played in the Championship this season. Two others were in Belgian and Dutch football respectively; again, that's not the highest standard.

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Wales get a reality check as Croatia proves a step too far and two Ryan Giggs decisions raise eyebrows © PA Wales' players appear dejected after team mate Jamie Lawrence (not in frame) scores an own goal and puts Croatia in the lead

Three more, Gareth Bale, Wayne Hennessey and Ben Davies, were not starters for their club sides as the 2018-19 campaign wore on.

Which means of the Giggs' XI in Osijek, only Bournemouth's Chris Mepham was a Premier League regular.

That is not a recipe for successfully taking on the second best side in the world last year with their skipper, Luca Modric, having subsequently won the Ballon d'Or.

Wales have always had players step up from the lower levels to punch above their weight in a sum of the parts approach and that will always continue.

But at the moment a little bit of patience may be required as the team develops. The luxury of Euro 2016, where Hennessey, Bale, Davies, Ashley Williams, James Chester, Neil Taylor, Joe Allen, Joe Ledley and Aaron Ramsey were in prime form at top club level simply isn't there at the moment.

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Dan James is going to Manchester United, Harry Wilson will be in the Premier League next season, David Brooks needs to start for Wales. But, like Mepham and Ethan Ampadu, they are each still learning the game at international level and won't reach their peak for a few years yet.

The future remains truly golden, but the question is whether Giggs can bridge the gap between youth and experience right at this moment in time?

Bale needs to sort out his club future

Wales get a reality check as Croatia proves a step too far and two Ryan Giggs decisions raise eyebrows © PA Wales' Gareth Bale (left) rues a missed chance during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group E match at Stadion Gratski Vrt, Osijek

Whatever the bright future may hold with the young guns, make no mistake Gareth Bale is still very much Wales' kingpin for these Euros and the next World Cup campaign.

But his lack of game time with Real Madrid told out in Osijek.

Bale flitted in and out, was invariably dangerous here and there, but we've seen the captain have better games than this for his country.

It doesn't matter if you're a footballer, rugby player, cricketer, boxer or whatever, if you're not happy in your work, not appearing regularly, then it will affect your match sharpness.

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This was not the Bale we know and love. Wales need him settled at club level and being picked week in, week out, wherever that destination may be.

The 90 minutes here will hold him in terrific stead, mind, for Hungary on Tuesday night.

What price a matchwinning Bale performance when he takes the field out in Budapest?

Allen needs to get back into the Prem

Wales get a reality check as Croatia proves a step too far and two Ryan Giggs decisions raise eyebrows © Getty Images Croatia's forward Ivan Perisic (R) vies with Wales' midfielder Joe Allen during the Euro 2020 qualification football match between Croatia and Wales at Gradski vrt stadium in Osijek, Croatia, on June 08, 2019. (Photo by Denis LOVROVIC / AFP) (Photo credit should read DENIS LOVROVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

It's an enormous ask to step up from the Championship to lock horns directly with the player named the world's best.

Unfortunately that proved to be the case for Allen, whose season with a struggling Stoke City side at Championship level also had an impact on Wales.

At his best, Allen is a little colossus for his country, if that's not a contradiction in terms.

He hustles, harries, uses the ball superbly. In the Euros, when he had been part of a Liverpool team, he was named amongst the best midfielders in the tournament.

But here he was off the pace, not up to the tempo of the game, as Modric went through the gears.

When Ethan Ampadu came on, he set up more Wales moves with Allen pushed further forward.

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Wales get a reality check as Croatia proves a step too far and two Ryan Giggs decisions raise eyebrows

At 29 Allen is good enough to play Premier League football for a number of years yet. If the opportunity arises this summer, Giggs will hope he grabs it.

The last thing the manager wants is another season of struggle for his key midfielder in the lower reaches of the Championship.

And there's not a jot of evidence yet that Stoke will get it right.

Brooks and Wilson, two bewildering Giggs decisions

Just as the young players are learning about international football, so Ryan Giggs is still new to management.

There were two questionable decisions in his line-up here.

The first was to omit Wales Player of the Year David Brooks and instead pick Rotherham's Will Vaulks.

Wales get a reality check as Croatia proves a step too far and two Ryan Giggs decisions raise eyebrows © PA Wales' David Brooks scores, but should he have started?

Tactically you can understand Giggs' concerns about Modric and Croatia dominating the midfield and wanting greater Wales numbers in there. But until Ampadu came on the Croatians dominated anyway.

Leaving out Brooks, who like Ampadu made an impact when he came on, handed the initiative to Croatia and before they knew it Wales were two goals behind, the game gone.

The other decision that raised eyebrows was playing Harry Wilson up top instead of Bale.

Wilson has many strengths, but playing as a nine up against the physical power of Lovren and Vida isn't one of them. Harry Kane struggled against those two in the World Cup, so what hope did young Wilson really have?

It was unfair on Wilson to expect him to have a significant impact in that position. Wales would have been better served with Bale up top from the start, with Wilson flitting around him.

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He would have been far more effective in that role and Bale would have been in the game more early doors.

Wales get a reality check as Croatia proves a step too far and two Ryan Giggs decisions raise eyebrows © PA Wales' Harry Wilson (left) and Croatia's Domagoj Vida battle for the ball

The Ash dilemma

At 34, and having just been released by Everton, Ashley Williams' best days are clearly behind him.

Giggs is probably right to stick with the younger pairing of Mepham and James Lawrence, but no-one can deny Ash has been a real leader for Wales at the back.

The two goals conceded were from elementary errors and Williams would have been out there pointing to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Williams can only be a short-term presence at best, but will Giggs consider recalling him for a dare not lose clash in Hungary on Tuesday night?

Wales get a reality check as Croatia proves a step too far and two Ryan Giggs decisions raise eyebrows © PA Wales' Daniel James (right) and Croatia's Domagoj Vida battle for the ball during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying, Group E match at Stadion Gratski Vrt, Osijek

Changes for Budapest

Hungary are amongst the co-hosts for Euro 2020 so they'll be giving it everything to qualify, making Wales' visit to Budapest on Tuesday night another tough one.

But it's not beyond Wales to go out there and win.

What changes should Giggs make?

Ampadu and Brooks deserve to start, even if it means lowering the average age of the side even more. That would mean Matt Smith and Will Vaulks unfortunately sitting it out, but they can make an impact from the bench.

Despite the claims of Ashley Williams, Giggs needs to plough on with the same back four so they can develop a togetherness. ahead of hopefully the Euros and the next world Cup.

The only other alteration should be a positional switch up top, with Bale playing as centre-forward and Wilson in either a wide role, or as the 10 in Aaron Ramsey's continued absence.

Bale can score another 20 goals for Wales as centre-forward, mirroring what Cristiano Ronaldo has done with his own career.

Remember, it's early days yet

No-one should get too demoralised by defeat away to the World Cup finalists, in blistering heat and extremely difficult conditions.

It's part of the learning experience for these young Wales players and they'll be better for it.

This was only the second game of a group where, like the last World Cup campaign, teams will take points off one another throughout.

Wales definitely need something out in Hungary. Then come two Cardiff games against Azerbaijan and Belarus, each eminently winnable.

By the time we get to October, the disappointment of Croatia away could have been well and truly been banished.

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Benkovic ruled out of international duty with recurring injury.
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